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Naval Flags Legislation (Germany)

Marine Dienstvorschrift (MDv) 161/1

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Naval Flags Legislation

The navy regulation [Marine Dienstvorschrift] MDv 161/1 (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung 1977) distinguishes between six types of flags:
- Flaggen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (flags of the Federal Republic of Germany), including the federal flag, the federal service flag and the naval ensign.
- Die Standarte des Bundespräsidenten (standard of the Federal President)
- Kommandozeichen (command signs) including the admirals' rank flags and others
- Unterscheidungszeichen (distinguishing signs) including the group and seniority pennants
- Erkennungswimpel für Kraftboote (distinguishing pennants for motor boats)
- Standarten und Flaggen fremder Nationen (standards and flags of foreign nations)

1. Flags of the Federal Republic of Germany

The naval ensign is called Dienstflagge der Seestreitkräfte der Bundeswehr (service flag of the naval forces of the Bundeswehr). It is mainly used by the warships in service. The federal service flag (Bundesdienstflagge) is used by auxiliary ships of the navy, ships leased or chartered by the Bundeswehr (if ordered by the Minister of Defence), and ships not yet in service or out of service. The federal flag is used by ships leased or chartered by the Bundeswehr (unless the federal service flag is ordered by the Minister of Defence) and by training sailing-boats.

Ships using the naval ensign or the federal service flag, also use their respective ensign in a smaller variant as a jack (Gösch). The size of the different ensigns is also regulated in the MDv 161/1. The sizes for the naval ensign or the service flag are 70 115 cm, 80 135 cm, 120 200 cm, 150 250 cm, 200 335 cm; the jack has either 50 85 cm or 70 115 cm. The prescribed size of the flags depends on the size of the ship: submarines and fast attack crafts use the smallest available flags, frigates and destroyers the bigger variants. A special case is the Gorch Fock, the training sailing ship, which uses an even bigger variant of the naval ensign (300 500 cm).

2. Standard of the Federal President

This is the personal flag of the President, hoisted on ships where the President is present. On ships flowing the standard of the Federal President no command signs or distinguishing signs may be hoisted.

3. Kommandozeichen (command signs)

Command flags shall indicate the place and the rank of a person aboard a ship:
- The federal service flag is used for the Bundesminister der Verteidigung (Minister of Defence) or the Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor) that means basically in peacetime the Minister, in wartime the Chancellor.
- The Generalinspekteur der Bundeswehr (Inspector-General of the Bundeswehr) uses his own command sign.
- The admirals' flags are used by the admirals of the different ranks aboard a ship and partially also ashore. The flags follow a pattern already established in the navy of the German Empire [and inherited from the Prussian Navy] and readopted in 1956. The flag of an admiral is square, white with a black Iron Cross, fimbriated black and white. The vice admiral's, rear admiral's and flotilla admiral's flags each add a black disc in the upper and lower hoist and upper fly corners.
- There are three further command flags used by officers in command of a naval unit, but not holding admiral's rank. The officer commanding a flotilla uses the Flotillenstander (flotilla pennant) (...) attached to a crossbar. The same flag, but hoisted normally (not attached to a crossbar), is used as squadron pennant (Geschwaderstander). The officer commanding a division uses the Divisionsstander (division pennant). Finally there is the Kommandowimpel (masthead pennant), used by any officer commanding a warship in service.

4. Unterscheidungszeichen (distinguishing signs)

Distinguishing signs are flags used to show command or seniority in cases, when ships are joined together accidentally or temporarily. These flags are used together with the masthead pennant, whereas in the case of the command signs above either the masthead pennant (showing the lowest rank) is used or one of the higher rank command signs.
- The Gruppenstander (group pennant) is the same as the Geschwaderstander (squadron pennant) and is used by the commanding officer of a temporary naval unit.
- The Dienstaltersttander (seniority pennant) is the same as the Divisionsstander (division pennant) and is used in harbour by the most senior officer of the ships present there, if none of the ships use a command sign of higher rank than the masthead pennant.

5. Erkennungswimpel für Kraftboote (distinguishing pennants for motor boats)

These distinguishing pennants are used aboard motor-boats of the Bundeswehr used by admirals or generals of the Bundeswehr, who are not entitled to use their own command signs; they are also used for foreign admirals or generals, if they do not have their own command signs or if these are not available. The pennants have a size of 65x25 cm and have a rounded tip. The colour is red for the army (Heer), air force (sky) blue for the air force (Luftwaffe) and blue for the navy (Marine). The rank is indicated by the number of four-pointed golden stars: Brigadegeneral/Flotillenadmiral (brigadier general/flotilla admiral) one star; Generalmajor/Konteradmiral (major general/rear admiral) two stars; Generalleutnant/Vizeadmiral (lieutenant general/vice-admiral) three stars; General/Admiral (general/admiral) four stars.

Sources: Album des Pavillons 2000, Flaggenbuch 1939 (1992 reprint), Zänkert 1995, Bundesministerium der Verteidigung 1977
Marcus Schmöger, 21 Nov 2001

Regulation MDv 161/1 (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung 1977) was adopted 15 August 1977. Several (pretty insignificant) amendments on 17 January 1979, 15 June 1979, 30 December 1980, 17 August 1983, 9 January 1986, 11 June 1985, 4 July 1986, 6 November 1986, 23 December 1991.
Marcus Schmöger, 8 Jun 2004